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Court denies overstaying alien’s request to exclude CNMI customs form from evidence

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DISTRICT Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona has denied the request of Xinzhou Ren to exclude from evidence the CNMI customs form he had filled out at the Saipan airport.

Ren, an overstaying tourist from China, has been charged with making a false statement to a federal agency and with improper entry into the United States by false statement.

Ren’s attorney, Robert T. Torres, has requested the court to exercise its discretion and prohibit the admission of the defendant’s CNMI customs form dated May 4, 2018 into evidence. Ren signed the form and answered its Question #4: Purpose of trip to NMI — “Pleasure.”

In her order on Wednesday, the judge noted that “both charges stem from statements that Ren… allegedly made to U.S. Customs and Border Protection…at the Saipan airport on May 4, 2018, in order to enter the United States…. The [U.S.] Government alleges that Ren misrepresented to CBP that he was visiting the United States as a tourist, when he in fact planned to stay in the country…. Ren denies having told the CBP officers that he came to the United States solely for tourism. In an interview conducted in November 2019, Ren claims the exact words he told CBP were: ‘Was a visitor, used an excuse to escape the country.’ … Thus, an important factual issue for trial is what Ren told CBP officers upon arriving at the airport.”

According to Ren, the judge said, “CBP did not retain his visa waiver form (Form I-736), and the other federal forms related to Ren’s arrival do not indicate the purpose of his trip…. Therefore, Ren claims that the [U.S.] Government has no direct evidence concerning what he told the CBP officers at the airport…. The [U.S.] Government does, however, have as circumstantial evidence the CNMI customs form that Ren submitted after making it past the airport’s CBP checkpoints.”

The judge said, “Ren points out that the CNMI customs form is a local rather than federal document, and thus his responses on it cannot themselves establish a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2) or 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(3)…. The [U.S.] Government does not argue to the contrary. Rather, the Government intends to introduce the CNMI customs form under Federal Rules of Evidence 404(b) to prove ‘motive, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, absence of mistake, and/or lack of accident.’”

Judge Manglona said she agrees with the U.S. government. “Ren submitted the CNMI customs form soon after speaking with CBP officers. Therefore, Ren’s responses on the CNMI customs form are highly probative of how he answered similar questions posed by the CBP officers. Furthermore, the CNMI customs form is run-of-the-mill evidence unlikely to induce any emotional reaction among the jurors. Thus, the Court does not find the CNMI customs form unfairly prejudicial. Nor is there any serious risk that [the] jury will believe Ren’s response on the CNMI customs form was a statement to federal officers that can satisfy the false-statement element. Ren will be free to cross-examine the witness explaining the form to the jury, as well as call his own witnesses. Moreover, the Court can give a limiting instruction to the jury explaining the purpose of this evidence, and that Ren’s answers on the CNMI customs form alone do not satisfy the false-statement element. These safeguards will eliminate any real risk of confusion.”

The court therefore “finds that the probative value of the customs form is not substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury. Accordingly, Ren’s motion…is DENIED.”

On Thursday, the judge reset the jury trial of Ren to Feb. 6, 2020 at 1:30 p.m.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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